This Course of Life

I have not been in the mood to blog this week.
I don’t know why.
Or maybe I do know why.
I’m thinking of the short story for the MPH Short Story Competition. The deadline is this Tuesday, 31 March. And I told everyone I would be joining. Except that my story is half-written and blah. Blah meaning my inner critic says it sucks.
Sometimes being a writer isn’t all that’s made out to be. But anyway, like Phua Chu Kang says, don’t play play. I shall just have to get the damn story in story mode and submit. After all, it is a promise I made to myself (and bloody announced it to the whole wide world).
Now that I got it out of my system, another thing bugged me.
Actually it was a call from a friend. She tells me that her daughter in Upper Six is almost completing her studies but the poor girl doesn’t know what she wants to do! (Yes, I’m Aunt Abby to all my friends)
I’m not shocked. Actually by the look of our education system today, it’s not strange that the poor girl is at a loss and doesn’t know what she wants in life except that “she really likes Biology”.
When I was 16, I already knew I wanted to be a copywriter and I wanted to study Communications in USM. That was my goal. Of course, I did end up doing all that I aimed for but then again, I KNEW what I wanted to do, even back then when the Internet was non-existent.
She’s not the only one. As I’ve helped organise talks and spoken to young people, I realise that more and more youths these days have no idea what they want to do.
And I surmise it to this: our spoonfeeding education system makes youths depend on teachers and parents for major decisions in life. And when it truly comes down to a major decision (what course to study, where to study, what career choice to make) they go all weak in the knees. For the first time in their lives, they need to really be accountable for themselves. And this is where the sticky puzzle starts.
Not having choices in life can be blessing – I think. I didn’t have a choice, unlike youths of today. My dad was a teacher and mom was a housewife. I had 2 younger sisters. Of course I had to go to Form 6. There was NO CHOICE. Then after Form 6, it was public university.
But today. Today’s world is mind-boggling. Lots of options. You can do Form 6 (but that is so old-fashioned – methinks people don’t dare to challenge themselves with STPM, the mother of all crazy tough exams), you can do matriculation, you can go to college, you can work.
And that’s the worst part of all. With so many options and choices and factors, one gets bewildered. Shall I do this or shall I do that?
And if one has never had to make tough choices in life, then when one does come face to face with a BIG choice like one’s career or ambition (and I don’t mean the stuff you scribbled in school about being a doctor or lawyer or engineer), it is puzzling. It is difficult. For one gets to the crossroads and does not know which path to follow.
I told my friend that we all need not worry. (Heck I have been telling lots of people not to worry. I am the exception to the rule that I knew what I wanted to do from the time I was 16). She worries that her son who is now in Form 5 wants to study an obscure course like environmental science and worries that there’s no job prospect. I want to tell her the story of Nic, yes, Nic my autistic husband (and I say this with utter positivism about autism, not with oh-god-he-is-autistic-i-am-doomed tone), who studied Art and whose parents also thought there’s no future in art and look where Art led him – his own web design business!
Teenagers of today will become adults of tomorrow and no matter what they study, they will eventually survive and thrive. And the course you study may not be what you end up doing. I know people believe that if you study Management, you must end up in some business organisation.
Not really.
Many of my uni friends ended up doing stuff they didn’t or couldn’t imagine back when we were undergrads. So life paths can change and it can be positive change. A degree these days is a stepping stone to better opportunities in life but in order to make it a life YOU treasure, you need to be smart enough to grab those opportunities when they arrive. A degree in medicine does not automatically make you a doctor for life. Just like my degree in Communications with a major in Journalism did not make me a journalist. I run the web design business with Nic but I don’t have an MBA. In fact my Masters has got nothing to do with business but I did it nevertheless because I enjoyed finding out things.
Most people connect tertiary education with better salary, promotion and status. Fine if that’s what you want. But learning for the sake of learning and unintentional learning is also important. These will help you navigate life better.
Maybe one day I should set up a youth consultancy business – to advise parents (not youth) why they should not worry about their children. Like Will Smith says, children are little people with less experience. They’re not there to be controlled by you the parent. As parents, you can only guide them but the end decision is theirs.

What The Judge Is Looking For In Your Short Story

If you don’t know yet (gosh where have you been?) there’s an ongoing short story writing competition organised by MPH. If you know about it, you will surely know that the deadline for submission is 31 March 2009.
I got to know of this through Derek (as always, the footie fan keeps me updated on movies and books and now, writing competitions).
Derek is always urging, no, egging me to write that fabulous story of all time. Derek dear boy, I am on a race to find that bloody muse of mine. I don’t know if she’s gone for good or if she only re-appears when it is 2 days to the deadline. Somehow, if I haven’t thanked you, I thank you (Derek, not the muse) for somehow egging me along on my writing adventure.
I don’t know what’s worse – not finding my muse OR finding out that my ex-creative writing lecturer (and present client) is going to be one of the judges of the MPH Alliance National Short Story Competition!
Robert Raymer (of the Lovers and Strangers Revisited fame) will be one of those people judging the submissions! Arrrrrgh.
But he does give a lot of clues as to what sort of stories he is looking for. The kind of best-of-the-best stories. Not soppy. Not cliched. Not rehashed from movies we like. Not set in Paris or LA. Not another drama of Wah Lai Toi.
If you are in Sarawak or Miri to be precise, you can ask Robert all the silly questions of writing as he’s going to hold a workshop on 8 March. Lucky you.
Or hop over to his blog and fire away.
It’s a lovely long post on what judges are really looking for in a damn fine story but Robert tells it best. Plus the downloadable entry form is also on his blog.